Five Types of Churches

I recently read Generating Hope: A Strategy for Reaching the Postmodern Generation by Jimmy Long. Here’s a few thoughts from this text that I thought were particularly helpful with discerning where our churches should be in relation to the significant culture changes.

The Church is at a major critical juncture in regard to two major cultural changes. First, we are transitioning in leadership and authority from the Baby-Boomers generation to Generation X. Second, there is a philosophical shift that is occurring (or perhaps has fully  occurred) in the western society where the culture moves from the modern to the postmodern era.

The big question is, how do we respond to the change in culture? As the Baby Boomers (and earlier generations) begin to relinquish the leadership reigns what will that look like? What kind of tension is this creating and how are we responding? From all appearances, it seems that most churches were built in and for the previous culture – the modern culture. Now the culture is changing and the church is having trouble connecting.

Jimmy Long gives the five models that help us to understand how the Church relates to the culture as it changes from modern to postmodern.

  1. Assimilating church – The church tries to make itself relevant to the prevailing culture by adopting some of the culture’s characteristics. The church supposedly does this in order to be welcomed by the culture and to encourage the culture to be open to the gospel. Scriptural reference from 1 Corinthians 9:20. If the church becomes too assimilated you can’t tell the difference between culture and church. If that happens then there isn’t much need for the church. I can get Jesus without the Church.
  2. Protecting church – Christians respond to sinfulness and its consequences with a sense of hopelessness and a desire for protection. “All of this is beyond my understanding and control. I can’t make any difference in the world. Sin is awful and powerful. My best strategy is to build a wall around myself and my family to keep out the changes and evil.” This worldview represents a dualistic approach to society that sees the church as good and the culture as bad. The protective church seem to have little faith in God’s sovereignty – Matthew 16:18.
  3. Unchanging Church – Pretty much ignores the culture. Views the church as having nothing to do with present culture. The church is above and beyond the culture. Tries to hold on to its own traditions by rising above culture. Christians in the unchanging church try to equate their own traditions, as exemplified in the above story, with Jesus’ blessings. The weakness of this model is that although the culture and the people within the culture do change, the church does not change to meet people where they are. As the culture continues to change, the unchanging church model becomes more and more marginalized and exerts less and less impact on society.
  4. Battling Church – Fears the annihilation of the church and is fighting back with all the weapons it can muster. James Dobson states, “The heated dispute over values in Western nations is simply a continuation of the age old struggle between the principles of righteousness and the kingdom of darkness and someday soon I believe a winner will emerge and the loser will fade from memory. Sees the church essentially as the new Israel.
  5. Influencing Church – Instead of seeing the culture as a battlefield and Christians as warriors, the influencing church sees the world as a mission field and Christians as missionaries. Sees itself as intimately involved in the culture. Redemption does not change their involvement in the culture, but it changes them as the character of their involvement. They see the neighborhood and the local school as mission fields, not battlegrounds. Far from being military bunkers, their homes are “havens of hospitality” with the Welcome sign displayed out front. For them evangelism comes first and cultural change comes second. The gospel message will be powerful only through showing love to neighbors and living lives of integrity. Those in the influencing church see others as people created by God and in need of God, not as the enemies of God. So their strategy in one of influence, dialogue and a prophetic voice.